What’s the format of a dissertation?

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Obviously the exact format of dissertations may vary, particularly for those based entirely upon secondary data collection. However, the considerations detailed below will be relevant for most. The headings represent the main components of a dissertation. Key considerations for each are indicated and serve as a checklist for producing a quality dissertation.


Should clearly indicate the title, student name and ID number, degree and year of submission. The spine (if professionally bound) should give the student name, degree and year of submission.

Title Page

Clearly indicate the title, student name, degree, institution, month and year of submission


Only cite the names of individuals who have assisted in the actual completion of the dissertation. In other words names and positions of people actually involved in the research process, stating their role / input. Long lists thanking all those providing emotional and spiritual support are unnecessary.


The contents page should clearly and accurately index the page numbers of the various sections of the dissertation. A list of figures, tables are also helpful. Spelling of headings should be accurate (an aspect often missed by students).


The dissertation may begin with an abstract of 150-200 words (MAXIMUM), which concisely summarises the research and findings. An abstract is not essential, but it does help the reader / examiner to quickly appraise the dissertation topic and is therefore desirable.


This should begin by stating the overall aim of the work and a number of objectives (not more than 4?). In essence, this section will draw upon the dissertation proposal, as modified by what you have learned.

[And remember in drawing up a proposal that aims and objectives should 1) have a clear focus and 2) be feasible. The research rationale should follow, explaining purpose of the research, why it is a worthwhile topic and its relevance to the specific sector or industry. The introduction should also briefly describe the dissertation content chapter by chapter and explain the relevance of each to the dissertation as a whole.

Literature Review I – Industry / Sector Overview

A description of the secondary research process followed and information sources used in the literature review is relevant. Include details of any on-line searches, attempts to evaluate information sources, triangulate findings. Relevant industry background information should be provided if the research involves a particular industry sector. This might include aspects such as the competitors, strategies, customer segments, current trends and developments. If industry experts have given interviews, or provided relevant material this information may be included here.

Attempts should be made to relate the industry overview to the dissertation aims, i.e., expand upon the research rationale and its relevance to the sector. The sector overview should be based on up-to-date information sources. It should display evidence of extensive reading around and not be based on just one or two reports. The chapter should be appropriately structured. For example, an introduction describing the chapter’s purpose and content. Also a conclusion summarising key points and its relevance to later sections of the dissertation (i.e., where the information presented is reconsidered). Students frequently regard the literature review chapter as a stand-alone item, distinct from the rest of the dissertation. It isn’t. The reason for a literature review is to establish what is already known about a subject, so the dissertation can advance that knowledge or apply it to a particular case. All cited sources must be accurately detailed in the references (see later section).

Literature Review II – Area of Business and Management Theory

A description of the secondary research process followed and sources used is again relevant.

This chapter should describe the area(s) of business and management theory relevant to the dissertation topic. Also, previous research/studies into the topic and their findings are relevant. The review seeks to provide a synthesis of the relevant literature, along with some attempt at critical evaluation. It is useful to describe the research methodologies and approaches that others have used to investigate the specific area of business and management theory. This information can then be used in the subsequent development and design of the dissertation research methodology.

This aspect of literature review should display evidence of extensive reading. Whilst sources such as textbooks will be relevant, particular attention should be paid to current academic journal articles. The chapter should be appropriately structured. For example, an introduction describing the chapter’s purpose and content. Also a conclusion summarising key points and its relevance to later sections of the dissertation (i.e., where the information presented is reconsidered).

Again, all cited sources must be detailed accurately in the references (see later section).

Conceptual Development

The conceptual development aims to clearly explain, based on the literature review, the research rationale and its objectives, what factors/variables are being investigated towards answering the research questions. This involves a focused and explicit understanding of how the research fits within existing research and what it examines through a logical and rational flow. If the research design is exploratory, developing its conceptual framework may involve discussing the assumptions and propositions it aims to explore. If the research design is more conclusive, its conceptual development may involve a discussion that builds hypotheses to be investigated, offering a theoretical rationale for it based on secondary data reviewed.

The conceptual development is a critical part of the research because it is about defining the backbone of the research work to be undertaken. It is important that students develop their ideas/thoughts about it early on and discuss it explicitly with supervisors. The main criteria based on which this part of the dissertation is assessed are clarity of concepts involved, a clear understanding of variables/factors examined in the research, and linking the conceptual framework to literature reviewed in a coherent way.

Research Methodology

The methodology chapter provides a detailed description of the research undertaken to fulfil the research objectives. Credit will given to students who put their research into the context of the research or subject paradigm, e.g., interpretivist v. positivist, qualitative v. quantitative, traditional v. experiential. Some consideration of alternative relevant research approaches may be appropriate so that the rationale for the chosen approach is clear.

The adopted research approach must be logical and appropriate to the research objectives. Consider the issues and limitations associated with:

  • Qualitative Quantitative
  • Paradigm Interpretivist Positivist
  • Goal Description, understanding Prediction, confirmation
  • Sample Small, non-representative Large, representative
  • Collection Recording, observing Surveys, questionnaires
  • Techniques Elicitation, probing subconscious Scales, tests
  • Data Transcription/quotes, description/observation Numeric, statistical tests
  • Analysis > Subjectivity, unscientific? > Objectivity, scientific

The research should be substantial enough to warrant a Masters degree. As a rule of thumb a qualitative dissertation on a consumer subject might comprise four focus groups or 30 depth interviews. A quantitative survey should have a minimum of 100 interviews. Research for business-oriented dissertations might vary greatly in size depending on the nature of the question. The methodology chapter should provide evidence that the research design is grounded in the research literature. Again, sources must be accurately referenced. The methodology chapter should clearly describe the research process followed and cover the relevant details.

Secondary data collection process: A section on secondary data collection can be included in this chapter if not already discussed in the literature review chapters. For example description of an online search might include:

  • Define objectives / scope
  • Prepare search plan
  • Break into relevant categories
  • Key search terms for each category
  • Accurately record all relevant sources
  • Rework search terms continue if necessary

Critically evaluate the source and the information in terms of:

  • Source (credibility, expertise, authenticity, bias)
  • Currency (out of date, modification dates)
  • Objectives (relevance / statement of aims)
  • Specifications and research design
  • Appropriateness
  • Nature (units of measurement)
  • Accuracy / error in process (at any stage in the process, quality checks)

Primary data collection process:

  • Research instrument (e.g., topic guide, questionnaire)
  • Critically evaluate the source and the information in terms of:
  • Rationale for each question
  • Design considerations, e.g., format, wording / vocabulary, scales, logical order
  • Pilot / pre-test (include developmental phases of the research instrument in the appendices), this should include:
    – Sample / research target
    – Contact strategy for gaining cooperation / contacting respondents
    – Anticipated response rate
    – Data capture and interviewer / moderator considerations
    – How to conduct effective interviews / groups
    – Data processing / analysis
  • How will the data processed
  • What analytical techniques will be used
  • Presentation / reporting
  • How / in what format will results be presented
  • Research schedule / timetable should also be included in the appendices
  • Supervisor meetings and input can also be detailed

More advanced students will be aware of the pitfalls / problems associated with their chosen research method and design a methodology that tries to overcome some of these.

All research and training involving staff and students at London Metropolitan University must comply with the University’s Ethics Policy and Procedures. These have been developed to protect staff, students and research participants from potential harm and to promote the highest ethical standards in research and training. See page 18 in this handbook (Ethics Review Checklist) for a full description of how the policy is implemented with regard to Masters Dissertations in LMBS. Once you have completed this checklist and discussed it with your supervisor, please retain one copy and send two signed hard copies to the Chair or vice-Chair of the Ethics Review Panel dealing with research and training for LMBS.

In addition to the university guidelines many professional bodies have published their own ethical policies; these should be consulted on a subject specific basis. For example market research that involves approaching members of the public must adhere to the Code of Conduct of the Market Research industry. For example, protecting respondent anonymity and gaining parental permission for research involving children are important considerations. The World Association of Opinion and Marketing Research Professionals website provides guidelines for different research types.

If more than one method of data collection is used then the links and relationship between them should be clearly explained. The sequence of research activities should also be correct.

Empirical Findings & Analysis

The raw / processed data should be appropriately presented in this chapter. For example, if a questionnaire has been used frequencies or percentages can be presented question by question. If depth interviews or focus groups were conducted then extensive use of verbatim quotations to illustrate points is appropriate. In the appendices it is also relevant to include complete data tables for questionnaire surveys, or interview/group transcripts in the case of qualitative research.

Evidence of presentation logic and thoughtfulness is welcome. For example:

  • Presenting tables or comments in order of percentage or frequency of mention.
  • Using appropriate graphing techniques.
  • Presenting in a concise manner.

Data processing and analysis must be performed in the correct manner. For example, with qualitative research data will not be reported in terms of percentages due to small sample size. Furthermore any observations and recommendations must be tentative in nature, using phrases such as ‘from the small sample involved it appears that’, ‘it seems that’.

Appropriate commentary and discussion should be provided. Clearly observations / interpretation of data should be accurate and relevant! Findings should be discussed in the light of the research objectives. Where possible findings should be related back to and discussed in the light of information / works cited in the literature review chapters.

For survey data in particular analyses may even form a separate chapter.

Conclusions / Recommendations

The conclusions should form a reasonably sized chapter. A couple of pages are not enough! It should include the following sections:

  • A summary of the research and the key findings. Summary tables or models detailing the key points may be appropriate. Effort should also be made to relate the findings back to the literature.
  • On the basis of the findings recommendations and implications for business and management may be given. Although not all dissertations may result in management recommendations.
  • Limitations of the research, particularly the methodology, should be acknowledged and described. Reflection on the research process should also be discussed, i.e., what worked well, what didn’t, what could be improved if the research were conducted again?
  • A discussion of relevant future research activities is also appropriate.

References list

All references should be listed alphabetical order!

Sources should be incorporated into one list, i.e., do NOT have a separate bibliography for books, one for journals, one for newspapers, since this format does not help the examiner / reader to check references. Only authors / sources cited in the text should be included in the References section at the end. Reference style should be consistent and follow a recognised format. For instance:

Montgomery, D.C. and Peck, E. A. (1992) Introduction to Linear Regression Analysis, New York: Wiley

Chapter in Edited Book
Bolton, R. N. and Drew, J. H. (1994) “Linking customer satisfaction to service operations and outcomes”, in Rust R. T. and Oliver, R. L. (Eds.) Service Quality: New Directions in Theory and Practise, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 173-200

Journal Article
Imrie, B. C., Cadogan, J. W. and McNaughton, R. (2002) “The service quality construct on a global stage”, Managing Service Quality, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 10-18

Electronic / Web Page
ESOMAR (2004) “Codes and Guidelines”, The World Association of Opinion and Marketing Research Professionals, http://www.esomar.org/esomar/show/id=103585, accessed 23 Sept 2009

The importance of proper referencing and an accurate bibliography cannot be overstated! Reading around and effective referencing are prerequisite for merit and distinction grades. They also help the examiner to:

  • Establish effort / care put in
  • Establish professionalism
  • Identify strengths & weaknesses (sources used / omitted)
  • Assess familiarity with and understanding of the research area
  • Follow up any interesting / relevant sources
  • To make a decision on any borderline dissertations
  • Identify plagiarism (see later section)


It is good practise to have an index or contents page at the start of the appendices. The appendices can contain items such as:

  • Research instrument(s) and any developmental stages
  • Letters / communications
  • Raw data
  • Any additional data relevant to the industry, customer base.

Writing Style and Report Quality

Dissertations should have a clear structure, with a consistent hierarchy of headings. Written English should be of a good standard free from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Use of Secondary Sources

Secondary sources should reveal extensive reading and up to date information from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Academic journals / periodicals
  • Textbooks
  • Trade associations / journals
  • Market reports
  • Search engines/portals
  • Individual company sites
  • Government sites

The dissertation must be the students own work and written in the students own words. There should be no evidence of plagiarism! (See later section).

Source: London Metropolitan Business School

2017-05-18T19:18:28+00:00 February 28th, 2014|Skills|